How to Get a Japanese Driver’s License

How to get Driver's License Car

The number of foreigners living in Japan is 2.88 million, and the number is expected to increase in the future. There are many means of transportation in Japan, such as trains and buses, but the most popular are cars. However, if a foreigner has obtained a driver’s license in his or her home country, can he or she drive in Japan? In this article, we will thoroughly explain how foreigners can obtain a driver’s license in Japan. If you are one of them who needs a driver’s license to work in Japan,  this article is for you and those who work with you.

*Just as a Japanese driver’s license cannot be used overseas, an overseas driver’s license is not valid in Japan either. The main reasons for this are the differences in traffic rules, driving on the right or left side of the road, and differences in road signs, etc.

If you do not obtain a Japanese driver’s license

how to drive in Japan

If you want to drive a car in Japan with a Japanese driver’s license, you can first get a driver’s license overseas and then switch to a Japanese license.  In this case, you will need to meet the following conditions.

  • A valid driver’s license from that country.
  • You must have lived in the country where you obtained your driver’s license for at least 3 months in total.
  • You must live in the country where you obtained your driver’s license.
  • Your visa must be valid.

If you want to switch your driver’s license in Japan, you will need to take a test, but be aware that you may be exempt from the test depending on the country where you obtained your driver’s license. Also, since a driver’s license is a strong form of identification, you should always switch licenses in the area where you live.

The following are the countries where the test is waived when switching.

Only an eye test is required

Austria, Netherlands, Canada, Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Hungary, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland United States of America (limited to Maryland and Washington State), United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Taiwan, Portugal, Monaco.

Written test, driving skills and vision test

Countries not listed above, such as the United States, Hong Kong, Brazil, India, etc.

Required Documents

  • Application form (available at the testing center)
  • Photographs (3 x 2.4 cm) x 2
  • A copy of the certificate of residence showing the applicant’s legal domicile (nationality) (photocopies are not accepted)
  • One copy of the certificate of residence showing the applicant’s nationality
  • A valid foreign driver’s license
  • A translation of the foreign driver’s license (translated by a consular officer at an embassy or consulate, or by JAF)
  • A translation of the foreign driver’s license (e.g., translated by a consular officer at an embassy or consulate or by JAF)
  • Interpreter (if you do not speak Japanese)
  • Fee

Academic Examination

Driver's License test in Japan

Foreigners can take the exam in Japanese, but each prefecture has specific place where they can take the exam in a foreign language. Most of them support English, Chinese, and Portuguese, but not all other languages. Please take note that some languages are not supported in some prefectures. It is important to check in advance which languages are supported in your area.

In addition, these three languages are only available for the Type 1 driver’s license and the regular provisional license, while the moped license is divided into two categories: those that support languages other than English and those that do not. For those who want to get a second class driver’s license for work, such as bus or cab drivers, they need to take a written exam in Japanese.

To get your Japanese driver’s license, all applicants must first get an official translation of their current driver’s license. This can be done at a JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) office. First, photocopy the front and back of your license, fill out the form on the JAF website, and mail-in both.

Next, make an appointment, or go during office hours, to the Japanese Driving Center to get the license converted. Those not fluent in Japanese will need to get a fluent Japanese speaker to call for them. Your school will have people that can be able to assist you. Just don’t hesitate to ask.

Obtaining a Japanese Driver’s License

Driver's License in Japan

On the other hand, for those who have not obtained a driver’s license overseas, the method is the same as for Japanese. There are two ways to get a Japanese driver’s license: either go to a driving school and take a driving test at a driver’s license examination center, or take and pass a practical driving test directly at a driver’s license examination center. Although it is cheaper to take the practical test at a driving school, most foreigners go to a driving school to get a driver’s license because of the language barrier and Japanese traffic rules.

However, due to language and Japanese traffic rules, most foreigners choose to go to a driving school to obtain a driver’s license. Some driving schools offer short-term training camps, so it is not that difficult for Japanese people to obtain a driver’s license, but for foreigners, it is important to choose a driving school carefully due to language issues.